Page images

the trade. He smiled, and levelled with the ground. The

seemed perfectly satisfied with that which he had taken up he was in such a sort of humour that I should have liked to have dined with him. His old clothes, I suppose, have been burned like the paupers at Salt Hill." At another time, by the way, Fox's ingenuity, in talk at White's, "planned out a kind of itinerant trade, which was going from horserace to horse-race, and so, by knowing the value and speed of all the horses in England, to acquire a certain fortune so do great minds anticipate the future. Selwyn has a longer passage than Walpole's on the seizure of Charles's furniture:

"You must know that for these two days past, all passengers in St James' Street have been amused with seeing two carts at Charles's door filling, by the Jews, with his goods, clothes, books, and pictures.


was waked by Basilico yesterday, and Hare afterwards by his valet de chambre, they being told at the same time that the execution was begun, and the carts were drawn up against the door. Such furniture I never saw. Betty and Jack Manners are perpetually in a survey of this operation, and Charles, with all Brooks's on his behalf, in the highest spirits."

A year later Charles was Secretary for Foreign Affairs. But even Charles was not allowed to go all lengths without some mild protest. "This Pharo Bank is held in a manner which, being so exposed to public view, bids defiance to all decency and police. The whole town as it passes views the dealer and the partners, by means of the candles and the windows being

Opposition, who have Charles for their ablest advocate, is quite ashamed of the proceeding, and hates to hear it mentioned." What would the present Liberal party have said to its ablest advocate? Regretfully I tear myself from Charles, and proceed to other points of interest I have noted.

There is, of course, a great deal about Mie Mie. At the end of Jesse's book she was still a baby; by the end of this, a young lady going to her first ball. (Selwyn had taken her on a visit when she was four: one can hardly help wondering if his friends did not sometimes find Mie Mie rather in the way.) She goes with Lady Caroline, Carlisle's daughter, to the Richmond Theatre to see "that étourdi Lord Barrymore play the fool in three or four different characters." There is nothing to clear up the mystery of her parentage. But, in fact, I do not think there was a mystery. The town of course said that Selwyn was her father, because he adopted her, and Jesse was undecided between him and the Duke of Queensberry. I agree with the editors of this selection that the latter was the likelier man, else he would never have left her the fortune he did leave, being by no means an affectionate person; but I go farther, and think it conclusively proved by a letter to Selwyn himself (in Jesse) from the Rev. Dr Warner, in which "Old Q's likeness to her is noted quite casually. If poor Mie Mie was the daughter of one profligate, she lived to marry

[ocr errors]

another and a worse, even scruple, omitted the lady's that Lord Hertford who was name. Selwyn, the good

the original of Thackeray's Steyne and Disraeli's Montford, and who was very easily treated by both novelists, if Charles Greville's account of him is to be believed. Mention of the Rev. Dr Warner reminds me that when I first read Jesse's volumes, many years ago, I was indignant with the picture Thackeray drew of him, a picture of an unprincipled parasite, with "Rabelais and Horace at his greasy fingerends" and SO forth why greasy? a picture which I a picture which I imagine suggested Parson Sampson in The Virginians.' Selwyn's own testimony confirms the opinion of Dr Warner's good sense and good feeling which any impartial reader of his letters in the books Thackeray saw would have formed.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

"I believe him to be a perfectly honest man: he is uncommonly humane and friendly, and most actively so. The Archbishop, who had been applied to in his favour by the late Mr Townshend, said he was too lively, but it was the worst he could say of him. Lord Besborough served him once essentially, and esteems him. The family of Mr Hoare, the banker, has assisted him, and so he has been able to support his mother and his nearest relations, whom his father, with a great deal of literary merit, had left beggars."

Some of the most amusing of Warner's own letters dealt with the matter of the Dowager Lady Carlisle and "the baron,' as the foreign adventurer whom she unwisely encouraged is always called. Jesse, by the way, with perhaps excessive



natured, tried to interfere, and the lady "has called me every name but that by which I should be described, and that is your friend," and the baron wanted to cut his throat. But at this point there is some slight confusion of dates, and I think that Jesse or the Historical MSS. Commission the editors of the selection are at fault. It is clear, however, that Selwyn and Warner refer to the same transaction. The baron was ultimately discomfited.... As early as February 1781 there is a mention of George IV. and his engaging habits. "Where the Prince sups, and lies, and with whom, are the chief objects of the politics of a certain class of people. All agree that at present the agreement between him and the King is perfect. The speculation is only how long it is likely to last. His Royal Highness stoops as yet to very low game. In some respects it may be better." The MSS. of Lord Carlisle, by the way, contain a few characteristically frothy and effusive letters from the Prince. . . . In 1781 there is a mention of White's, which reads a little oddly. "Our Club at White's commence à tomber; la grande presse n'y est pas; c'est un asyle toujours pour les caducs, et pour ceux qui n'ont pas une passion décidée pour le jeu- the stage would seem to have been transitory.


[ocr errors]

. . In 1782 Selwyn met Beckford-not the famous alderman, Chatham's friend, but his (now)


Last of these miscellaneous matters, I must mention one which has a personal interest for me. George, Lord Morpeth, Carlisle's eldest son, was a little boy in 1772 at school at Neasden, and Selwyn writes: "When George meets me, he accosts me with these words, 'Quomodo vale my petite sodale'; où il a péché cette plaisanterie I do not know." But if any one who was at my preparatory school, Temple Grove, chances to read this article, he will remember a certain dear ungrammatical chant

more famous son, who wrote all have read of well - born 'Vathek' and built Fonthill, Frenchmen turning fiddlers and lived to acquire the and dancing - masters at the very evil reputation which time; but at first there was a Byron noticed in one of his very genuine and substantial letters, and commemorated (I outburst of sympathy on the am pretty certain) in his 'To part of their English friends Dives, a Fragment,' which was for the émigrés who had enternot published till 1832. "I was tained them in France, and last night at Lady Lucan's, to Selwyn's letters show it in see young Beckford, who seems more than one passage. to possess very extraordinary Admiral Biron's name, the talents he is a perfect master poet's grandfather, is spelled of music, but has a voice, either sic, and so Byron spells it once, natural or feigned, of a eunuch. saying that it was the old form. He speaks several languages with uncommon facility, and well, but has such a mercurial turn that I think he may finish his days aux petites maisons; his person and figure are agreeable." . . . In the later years of the letters there is of course a good deal about the French émigrés, who gathered in great numbers at Richmond, where Selwyn, the Duke of Queensberry, and other of their English friends, had houses. English society, indeed, had never - with the possible exception of Charles II.'s court been so cosmopolitan as in Selwyn's day, and has hardly been so since. Indeed, the society of Paris, as he and his friends knew it, was never recreated. That society was France, just as Selwyn's was England, and the two were intimate and familiar: Selwyn himself, and his friend Lady Hervey-widow of the famous Hervey of the memoirs-were almost more at home in Paris than in London. The editors of the selection think that the English did not rise to the occasion of hospitality at the Revolution, and of course we


Quomodo vale Mi sodale
Visne edere pomum

Si non vis Mirabilis

Dulce redire domum "

we sang it without stops,and it is quaint to find that there were small boys singing it a hundred years ago.

A word of Selwyn's correspondent. It is the tendency of most biographical writers to make their geese into swans, and I think that Carlisle's qualities have been exaggerated. Because he wrote verses and was at the same time a man of society and of the world, he has

been compared with his kinsman Byron. Jesse goes so far as to say that, if they had been of an age, Byron, instead of abusing him heartily, would have found in him a congenial spirit. I hardly think so. Carlisle was really a very colourless, ordinary person. He wrote extremely bad verses. Byron's "paralytic puling of Carlisle" was quite a fair description (and Byron did not know that Carlisle was actually paralysed at the time): he fell in love with Lady Sarah Banbury, with whom all the world fell in love; he had some ambition, and got no farther than being Lord Lieutenant; he lost £10,000 in a sitting at play, which, on the whole, was rather foolish than otherwise, and about which he made a tremendous to-do, bewailing and repenting. No doubt he was an amiable youth when Selwyn first began to be his friend, grew into an amiable man, and begot amiable children for Selwyn to pet. No doubt when Byron came of age he was a very respectable old gentleman, and was quite justified in looking askance on his unmanageable ward. But he was not a remarkable man.

And now for Selwyn himself. Mr Roscoe and Miss Clergue's little biography of him is very pleasantly written, and says enough of the events of his uneventful life. Those events do not of themselves promise anything very wonderful, and I am inclined to think that for preliminary interest it is necessary to read the letters in the oft-referred-to Jesse and see how various and strong were his

powers of friendship: then will the allusions in his own letters to his many friends be read in their true significance. For his outward life, the new letters do little more than emphasise the reluctance with which he went down to his pretty house of Matson, the loathing he had for the fuss of his election for the neighbouring town of Gloucester, and the terror with which he looked forward to dinners with aldermen and judges. They are not often witty, in the strict use of the word. But it has long been clear that even when we allow for the gloom which time casts over jokes and puns, Selwyn's reputation as a wit must have been due in reality (an allowance of jokes being of course presupposed) to his more general gifts for society, his instinct for the right tone at the right time, his good-humour and quaint imperturbability. I noticed the other day an account of him Lord Holland (Fox's nephew) gave to Charles Greville: "He describes him as a man of great gravity and deliberation in speaking, and after exciting extraordinary mirth by his wit and drollery, gently smiling and saying, 'I am glad you are pleased.' I fancy the great gravity and the rest of it lent reflected colour to the wit and drollery. And all of us remember sayings which at the time and on their occasion have gone straight to the very heart of our sense of humour, and repeated afterwards are quite without effect. In the letters, however, the context of atmosphere which the reported witticisms cry for is supplied, and

[ocr errors]

Selwyn's demure flashes of irony or pleasant nonsense are often delightful. "Mr Brereton is returned to the Bath, and the street robbers seem dispersed"— Mr Brereton's play was respected. And here is a passage on Ministers much in Horace Walpole's vein. Selwyn had been asked to take a long journey to meet Pitt and dine on turtle. "The turtle I should have liked, but how Mr Pitt is to be dressed I cannot tell. The temptation is great, I grant it, but I have had so much self-denial as to send my excuses. You will not believe it, perhaps, but a Minister of any description, although served up in his great shell of power, and all his green fat about him, is to me a dish by no means relishing, and I never knew but one in my life I could pass an hour with pleasantly, which was Lord Holland"-the first Lord Holland, Fox's father. But no, no; in this respect Selwyn is not Horace Walpole.

When Selwyn was dead Dr Warren wrote a letter to the 'Gentleman's Magazine' to urge that his reputed love of executions was merely the chaff of his friends; and though, as Jesse pointed out, the testimony against this view was too universal not to be believed in part, I think Dr Warren was so far right, that Selwyn was too lazy and indifferent to contradict many of the stories told against him. This opinion is borne out by the letters. In 1777 a satire called "The Diaboliad" appeared, in which this taste of Selwyn's was dragged in, and he writes: "I


[ocr errors]


am only attacked upon that trite and very foolish opinion concerning le pene ed i delitti, acknowledging it to proceed from an odd and insatiable curiosity, and not from a mauvais I forgive him his mention of me, because I believe that he does it without malice, but if I had leisure to think of such things, I must own the frequent repetition of the foolish stories would make me peevish.' In another place: "It is my singular fate for ever to pass for something which I am not, nor cannot be, nor desire to be

sometimes indeed for what I should be ashamed to be. But I am used to this." One must remember that to see executions was a general amusement of the time, and that a general habit is sometimes a sufficient explanation of contradictions in character: there is no doubt that the thinking and acting Selwyn was kindly and humane.

[ocr errors]

.. His good-humour hardly ever fails, but it is clear that the politics of 1782, as I have said, both aroused his seriousness and upset his equanimity, and at this time his expressions grow more violent: Lord Melbourne, who asserted that he had bought a seat in Parliament of Selwyn, is "this fitz scrivener, fitz coachman, this fitz cook"; and the Duke of Portland, who was spoken of as Carlisle's successor in Ireland, is "that jolt-headed calf."

But the note which is never silent for half a page is his love for children. It is pleasant enough to think of him, a man with no "natural" ties, save to a few nephews and nieces, con

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »